Effective trainers are realists.
They have to be. They have to assume that the glow, the inspiration, the new ideas and new skills will gradually dissipate as the workshop becomes a distant memory. It's a safe assumption, but there are ways to ensure that the training holds its value.
Let's imagine that you are about to commission some training.
Before the learning starts, you should work out a whole program of learning and evaluation - including parts that you, your organisation and the trainer will play to ensure that the new skills last.
Now choose the trainer. Ask detailed questions about the trainer's teaching methods. How will she teach each key concept? What teaching aids will she use? How will she know whether the trainees are learning? How will she create a healthy learning environment?
The research on learning and memory tells us that active learning is far more effective than lectures or passive seminars. The key is the depth to which our brains 'process' the information.
A teaching style that incorporates 'learning by doing' through problem-solving, analysis and role-playing helps learners move the ideas and skills into long-term memory. Combining individual feedback, the opportunity to try something again with more feedback from the rest of the group and a supportive trainer, is an effective way to develop real skills. 'Doing' is essential for skills. Imagine trying to learn how to tie your shoe laces from a list of instructions in a lecture.
A variety of visual, verbal and hands-on learning methods is useful, even for facts - not just because we have different preferred ways of learning, but because it's more effective to allow our brains to process new information in more than one way. Even so, don't expect your trainer to have several ways of teaching everything. It would be a very slow and contrived workshop.
Choose only those colleagues who will have the opportunity to apply the information and skills right away. Relevance is a key predictor of long-term learning. An effective trainer will help your colleagues see the relevance to their work and the practical exercises should put it beyond doubt. Some skills, especially communication skills, are obviously relevant to the trainees' private lives and the relevance is a bonus that certainly improves a trainee's motivation - and memory.
The first month appears to be critical for long-term learning. Recent research suggests that it's worth investing the time evaluating, supporting and refreshing in the first month to lay the foundations for the new skills. Joel Bennett, Wayne Lehman and Jamie Forest, found that those who had retained skills after one month were likely to retain them a year after the training. They also found that the support for the training the employees found when they returned to work was critical.
We suggest that shortly after the training, you make a point of asking the participants for their impressions and what in particular they gained from it. Tell them that you plan to discuss their learning with them in more detail soon. Say you'll want to know what they are doing differently and what further help they may need in applying the new skills. Try to complete those discussions within a couple of weeks. Follow them up with some kind of objective assessment. Expect to schedule a refresher within the first month.
It's often very rewarding to provide a mini-version of the original training program and an opportunity for trainees to discuss any problems they may be having applying the ideas to their own work.
It's usually best if the trainer has at least a significant role in the refresher, but we are always pleased to see our clients develop in-house mentors. Mentors are not only less expensive than bringing in an outsider, but help to ensure that your trainees get the support whenever they need it. For both mentor and colleague, it's a chance to ensure that you get the long-term return you expect from your investment in their learning.
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